The Swedish tradition of "spex" is not very old, but not
very young either.
More specifically, it started out in the middle of the 19th century
among the students at the University of Uppsala. "Spex" is
prononced exactly like "specks" as in "big black
floating specks of radioactive superintelligent dust from outer
Ethymologically, the word "spex" was once short for
"spektakel", which originates from the Latin
"spectaculum", simply meaning "play". The Swedish
word "spektakel" can be reasonably well translated into
"farce", although the common Swedish word for
"farce" is actually "fars". A spex, however, is
not just a farce. It is a very special kind of stage production which
usually meets most of the following traditional criteria:
- It is a pure amateur production, written, staged and performed
by university students.
- The storyline is more or less taken from history. History is
re-interpreted in a creative way to suit the purpose of the
play, which is to make fun of it. Mostly, it also makes fun of
the present by numerous allusions and anachronisms.
- Music is an integral part of the performance. Almost invariably,
new words are put to existing tunes. Both classical and modern
music is used.
- The audience is expected to shout out loud their appreciation
and/or their discontent. Requests for brief replays of what you
just saw are also permitted and should be granted.
- The script is often in rhyme. Puns and more or less silly jokes
are abundant. Improvisation is more of a rule than an
- Some, many or all female roles are played by male actors. In the
mid-1800's, there were no female students, so any female
characters simply had to be played by men. This tradition lives
on, mostly because it is often funnier that way.
Thus, if you desperately need a translation, "spex" means
something to the effect of "Swedish university student amateur
historical musical satire farce".
There are quite a few universities in Sweden, large and small, old
and new. At most every single one of these it seems like there are
always quite a few students feeling bored or deprived of culture,
yearning for self-expression, or perhaps being just a bit crazy. These
people seem to gather and say "Hey, we're bored / deprived of
culture / yearning to express ourselves / a bit crazy. Let's make
something fun out of that!" That something is often, as it
happens, a spex.
The first and foremost purpose of a spex is to provide
entertainment, not only for the audience, but also for those doing
it. It takes quite a few people and quite a lot of time to stage a
spex. From 40 to 80 students spend several months of their spare time
on it. You need writers and music arrangers, costume makers, decor
builders, artists and PR makers, actors, makeup artists, musicians, a
stage crew and - last but not least - a few reliable backstage party
arrangers. Nobody throws a party quite like a spex.
Originally created by StefanG